Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lawsuit challenges St. Louis Loop Trolley plan

Written by 
Lawsuit challenges St. Louis Loop Trolley plan Loop Trolley Co.

The beleaguered St. Louis Loop Trolley proposal, already scrambling to meet federal funding requirements, has been sued by plaintiffs alleging it seeks to run beyond its authorized boundaries.

The suit, filed late Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, claims the development district set up to fund part of the proposed $43 million projects violates the U.S. Constitution by giving nonresident property owners votes in the district's creation. The lawsuit also alleges that the planned streetcar line would expand beyond its authorized boundaries.

Supporters of the Loop Trolley foresee a 2.2-mile line, estimated to cost $44 million to construct, that would link University City, Mo., and the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, west of downtown St. Louis, using historic "replica" streetcar design. The proposed route would include nine stations, connecting with two Metrolink light rail transit (LRT) stops at Forest Park and Delmar. The Loop Trolley district has assessed a one-cent sales tax within its boundaries.

But last month Federal Transit Administration officials expressed concerns of "insufficient progress," putting most of the project's federal funding at risk even before the latest legal challenge to the project surfaced.

The project reportedly is at least one year behind schedule. Regardless, "We have had no input," former University City Councilwoman Elsie Beck Glickert, one of the four plaintiffs in the suit, complained to local media. "It would be nice if people could vote on it, not just the property owners. It was a very weighted vote. The wealthier you were, the more votes you had."

In a wide sweep, the lawsuits cites as defendants the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, the Loop Trolley Co., Metro Transit-St. Louis, the cities of St. Louis and University City, St. Louis County, and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

The complaint charges that the Missouri Transportation Development Act, as it existed in 2007, violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by allowing nonresident property owners within such districts to cast one or more votes based on the acreage they owned, while citizens were given a single vote.

A second streetcar plan is being advanced by citizen advocates in St. Louis seeking to serve the city's downtown with the Central West End as part of an economic development package.